I just had this quick idea to write a tcp port scanner in bash. Bash supports a special /dev/tcp/host/port file that you can read/write. Writing to this special file makes bash open a tcp connection to host:port. If writing to the port succeeds, the port is open, else the port is closed.

At first I wrote this quick script.

for port in {1..65535}; do
  echo >/dev/tcp/google.com/$port &&
    echo "port $port is open" ||
    echo "port $port is closed"

This code loops over ports 1-65535 and tries to open google.com:$port. However, this doesn't work that well because if the port is closed, it takes bash like 2 minutes to realize that.

To solve this I needed something like alarm(2) system call to interrupt bash. Bash doesn't have a built-in alarm function, so I had to write a helper program in Perl to handle SIGALRM.

alarm() {
  perl -e '
    eval {
      $SIG{ALRM} = sub { die };
      alarm shift;
    if ($@) { exit 1 }
  ' "$@";

This alarm function takes two args – seconds for the alarm call and the code to execute. If the code doesn't execute in the given time, the function fails.

Once I had this, I could take my earlier code and just call it through alarm:

for port in {1..65535}; do
  alarm 1 "echo >/dev/tcp/google.com/$port" &&
    echo "port $port is open" ||
    echo "port $port is closed"

This is working! Now if bash freezes because of a closed port, alarm 1 will kill the probe in 1 second and the script will move to the next port.

I went ahead and turned this into a proper scan function:

scan() {
  if [[ -z $1 || -z $2 ]]; then
    echo "Usage: $0 <host> <port, ports, or port-range>"

  local host=$1
  local ports=()
  case $2 in
      IFS=- read start end <<< "$2"
      for ((port=start; port <= end; port++)); do
      IFS=, read -ra ports <<< "$2"

  for port in "${ports[@]}"; do
    alarm 1 "echo >/dev/tcp/$host/$port" &&
      echo "port $port is open" ||
      echo "port $port is closed"

You can run the scan function from your shell. It takes two arguments – the host to scan and a list of ports to scan (such as 22,80,443), or a range of ports to scan (such as 1-1024), or an individual port to scan (such as 80).

Here is what happens when I run scan google.com 78-82.

$ scan google.com 78-82 
port 78 is closed
port 79 is closed
port 80 is open
port 81 is closed
port 82 is closed

Similarly you can write an udp port scanner. Just replace /dev/tcp/ with /dev/udp/.


I was just creating a GNU coreutils cheat sheet and discovered that coreutils include a timeout utility that runs a command with a time limit. By using timeout, I rewrote the tcp port scanner without using a Perl helper program.

$ timeout 1 bash -c "echo >/dev/tcp/$host/$port" &&
    echo "port $port is open" ||
    echo "port $port is closed"

Have fun scanning those ports and see you next time!